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Yeah, memes are art, but then what is art?

Artblog's intrepid advisor, Beth Heinly, gets a question referring back to a previous Advice Column dealing with memes. Here, Beth finds a new unique way to deal with the thorny issue of whether memes are art, and if so, what is art anyway? And what is a meme? A very good read for our digital age. Have a question about the Art Life for Ask Artblog? Email Or submit a Google form with your question. There's a link to the Google form at the bottom of the post below. All names kept anonymous.

Image source Eagles Fans out front of City Hall by Neil Davis. Entitled "The Creation of Super Bowl Champs"
Image source: Eagles Fans out front of City Hall by Neil Davis. Entitled “The Creation of Super Bowl Champs”

Cathal T Hogan asks via twitter….@bethheinly

I’m doing my thesis on memes and their relationship with art. After reading your blog post on Artblog “Making Art The Age of Memes” I believe a question still remains. Can we consider some memes as art due to their process of creation and the intent of their creation?

Wow, this is exciting. For me. We are now getting questions from the archive of this advice column. *moment of silence* I would like to preface this entire article with a full disclosure message because this question you are asking is a philosophical one and as much as I like to talk philosophy – I honestly do not read philosophy…beyond maybe 5 to 10 pages and – I don’t want to (read philosophy). Thankfully today we have Wikipedia.

For me philosophy is like politics – it’s really just a basic understanding of being human and alive in the present moment. You might say then that the only people really interested in reading philosophy and politics are — those who don’t understand what it means to be a human being — sociopaths – hey, what can I say, that’s been my experience. I did go through a time in my early twenties when I actually read full. entire. books on philosophy only to come out the other end like – well, yeah. And also like how smart can all these white men possibly be when they are completely complicit in comparing women to cattle and have no interest whatsoever in the entire breadth of human experience that includes those not included in academia. Now the women-as-cattle interpretation of Nietzsche’s writings – to be fair – only lasted to about the 1960’s, er, 1980’s but whiteness and academia are prevalent in the genre (yeah it is one) of philosophy even today.

Additionally, a correction from my last article. A friend pointed out to me that there was a flaw in my analogy of art and the vampire, being that art never dies – vampires are in fact undead, meaning, art is undead. So, whenever confronted by someone, a troll, proclaiming that “Art is dead.” the correct response would be “Art is undead.” And thus the entire overarching argument for my previous column, “Making Art in the Age of Memes”: art is undead. And in fact, perhaps all of Postmodern Art too, considering I’m not sure it’s even over yet.

Now onto your question! Heidegger. In Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art,” he writes that a work of art defines the cultural climate, so in answer to your question, YES, memes are art based on their intent to deal with the current cultural climate. Artists make memes so then the meme is Art. Again, so no confusion, memes do not make art, the artists make the meme art. Now, say that fives times fast.

If it’s not delivery it’s Adorno!* Now see, internet art nerds love this guy. Adorno suggests the ultimate truth of a work of art is defined by the multiplicity of its meaning, essentially its discordance from the subject. Wow. Woa. That’s the definition of a meme. Maybe Memes are Art? And have nothing to do with the artist or intent, but are connected instead to the divine (god not human, abstract) creation? Or maybe I could be entirely not understanding Adorno and just pulling from what I read in Wikipedia to validate my argument, er, for sake of argument. Or maybe I’m talking about platonism? No – I’m definitely talking about platonism in relation to understanding the abstract in what makes a work of art through its intent and creation. Wait was Adorno talking about platonism?

Look, I’m just googling here. My head hurts. Oh darn-o we didn’t get into Boris Groys – you gotta read that guy – I link you here to the specific instance Groys points to, that of looking at Art today, where the meme is made Art when made useful by the Artist (like exactly what you said!). It gets more complicated once the curator approaches.

So, yeah. Memes are Art. And furthermore I did not mean to imply that memes were not, in my previous article – just that I think they’re made easily dated vs painting which is – sorry not sorry – a timeless medium. And furthermore furthermore, that is not to say that memes are art as art are not of value, but that art history is moving faster than ever these days and isn’t that cool? It might explain the meme of pairing images from today to the works of masters. (see above) We are now in a time where we can easily grasp by means of having our purview within the click of button that yeah, time repeats itself – and so does art. I’m sad now.


Beth, Please Send Me Your Thesis

Ask Artblog is the essential advice column for all your art life questions. Beth Heinly and Dave Kyu, our Advisors-In-Chief, offer solid advice from life experience and mature opinions on issues. Have a question for Dave or Beth? Email Or click here to submit a Google form with your questions.


*If it’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno” is the slogan of DiGiorno frozen pizza, which suggests its pizza is so good it’s competitive with pizzaria pizza.